Dysphagia is the medical term for having difficultly swallowing food or liquid. There are various signs of dysphagia such as coughing while eating or drinking, the sensation that food is stuck in your throat, being unable to chew properly and more.
If you or a loved one was recently diagnosed with dysphagia, it will take some time to get used to all the lifestyle changes necessary based on the diagnosis you received. There are different types of dysphagia with different ‘causes’ and although they all result in being unable to swallow safely, there are different treatments available.
Sometimes they are surgical such as the process for inflating the esophagus with balloons and other times various medications can be helpful. However, there will always be a need to alter your eating habits and that is what you can do when trying to understand how to live with dysphagia. These tips should help to get you started.
Modify Foods and Beverages as Needed
Being that dysphagia is the inability to swallow safely, you might assume that only solid foods need to be altered or monitored. Actually, many people even have trouble swallowing liquids and that can result in aspirating fluid into the lungs. While you probably won’t drown, that liquid can lead to future conditions such as pneumonia or lung scarring that can exacerbate your condition even further.
There are products like SimplyThick Easy Mix for use with hot or cold drinks that can make it easier and safer to swallow without aspirating liquids into your lungs.
As for solid foods, if you have a food processor or blender, you can eat just about anything if you puree it. Of course, there are some foods you think you might be able to eat like bread and oatmeal because they are soft, but they aren’t always safe and should be pureed as well.
Posture When Eating
It’s amazing just what proper posture during eating can do to help sufferers of dysphagia swallow foods more easily. It is suggested that you sit as upright as possible with level shoulders. Then tilt your head just slightly forward. This should help to prevent aspiration however, if you feel like food is stuck somewhere on the way down your esophagus, simply stand up and perhaps walk or stretch a little. This should help food slide down into the stomach easier.
You may want to consult with a Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist for assistance in learning how best to achieve a safe posture.
Create a Positive Eating Environment
It is often suggested that a friendly family meal might help the person suffering from dysphagia. Perhaps it’s because the muscles are a bit more relaxed and maybe it’s due to frequent pauses as people share the day’s events. Sometimes doctors prescribe muscle relaxants to help keep tension from exacerbating difficulty in swallowing, but a warm and friendly family meal can often accomplish much the same thing.
Get Assistance When Eating
Finally, if you are having extreme amounts of difficulty eating without choking, you should talk to your doctor about getting assistance when eating. If you are covered by insurance that will provide a home health worker, that may be an option. However, family members can be trained to assist you at mealtimes so that you can safely eat meals without undue stress.
These four tips are just the beginning of what you can do when diagnosed with dysphagia, but your doctor will be better able to give you the information you need to live safely with this condition.